Soon after Premier Wen Jiabao came to power nearly 10 years ago, his cabinet started to send unmistakable signals that China would boost development of the private sector as a key driver of economic growth by opening up greater space for private investment. In 2005, the State Council unveiled with much fanfare 36 measures aimed at boosting the private sector development and in particular encouraging private investment in those strategic and hugely lucrative industries and sectors monopolised by the state firms - banking, energy, infrastructure and aviation, to name a few. State media trumpeted the exciting line that private investment was welcome in almost any industry or sector, while the overseas media praised the mainland leadership for its bold vision and reform drive. Alas, how short-lived the excitement was. Since then, each year authorities have unashamedly repeated their commitment to such opening up, but in reality just the opposite is happening. State-owned firms, helped by preferential policies and easy credit from state-owned banks, are getting bigger and stronger, further consolidating their monopolistic controls over key industries and sectors. This has given rise to a succinct term that vividly captures the role of the government in the economy - 'the state advances while the private sector retreats'. Embarrassed officials have found the term so stinging that it is largely banned in state media. The irony is not lost on many mainlanders that just as Wen prepares to retire next March, he is again waving the flag for private investment in a sudden burst of energy and determination. In an uncharacteristic move last month, he attacked 'a few big banks' for making easy money and said the mainland leadership had reached consensus over breaking monopolies. Over the past two weeks, mainland authorities have released a raft of measures aimed at boosting private investment in strategic industries including banking and railways. Should private entrepreneurs get excited again after so many false starts? There are some good reasons to believe that mainland authorities are more serious this time, because non-government money is urgently needed. The economy has slowed down noticeably because of weak external demand from major Western trading partners along with lacklustre domestic consumption. Wen recently emphasised that ensuring stable economic growth would take priority over fighting inflation. As the central government is generally believed to be unable to unleash another round of stimulus spending like it did in the 2009 financial crisis, it is now counting on private investment more than ever. Compared to earlier policy announcements, the latest measures appear to contain more detailed guidelines. On Saturday, the China Banking Regulatory Commission unveiled policies to encourage private investment in the banking sector, particularly in rural lenders. One significant development appears to be that the originating shareholder of a rural lender is now required to hold a minimum stake of 15 per cent, down from 20 per cent, thus allowing more private investors to be involved in setting up such small banks. On the same day, the China Securities Regulatory Commission also promised to make it easier for private firms to raise money through initial public offering and the secondary market, and buy into stock and futures brokerages, asset management companies, and investment consultancies. On Friday, the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission announced it had set general guidelines to encourage private investment in restructured state firms, although it provided no details. It said private investors could participate in such restructuring exercises through cash investments including buying shares or convertible bonds. It said that private investors could band together or set up private equity funds with state firms to invest in strategic emerging industries or make overseas investments. On Tuesday, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planner, said drafting of detailed rules for private investment in the electricity, oil and natural gas sectors was under way. The commission's move comes shortly after the Ministry of Railways issued a statement saying it would invite private investment in that sector, which is traditionally one of the most tightly-held state-controlled sectors in the mainland economy. All these measures sound encouraging, but the devil is in the details. Unless the authorities release detailed and workable rules for their implementation, private entrepreneurs are unlikely to get overly excited.